“It’s never too early to teach your children about the tool of money. Teach them how to work for it and they learn pride and self-respect. Teach them how to save it and they learn security and self-worth. Teach them how to be generous with it and they learn love.” ~ Judith Jameson
Living in Johannesburg (and on the internet), I have come to realise that we are a melting pot of people from all walks of life. Some of us come from poor backgrounds, others from middle class backgrounds and, a few, from wealthy backgrounds. We are all thrown together in this metropolitan melting pot to do what we can to not just live, but to thrive.
I am sure I speak for a great many people when I say that our parents did a great job at parenting us. Most of us are well-mannered. Our parents invested in that. We had access to education. We had decent clothing and food most of the time. Our parents invested in that. We were taught to be ambitious. Our parents invested in that. Safe sex and abstinence? If not the parents, then certainly the schools invested in that. Personal grooming? Of course, there was plenty of investment in that. No-one wants to be the girl or guy with the hairy, smelly armpit. Articulate and well-spoken? Articulate folks are a dime a dozen. We seem to be a bunch of well-rounded human beings with a good education. What more do we need?
In the final year of my law degree, I genuinely felt that way. I felt that as soon as I had that degree, I would be fully equipped to face the world and win. I got the degree and stepped out into the world and reality burst my bubble instantly. In the boxing match between myself and reality, I got knocked down a good many times. Each time, the following was confirmed: A degree was not enough; Good manners weren’t enough; Good personal grooming wasn’t enough; Even a first job wasn’t enough. I needed a financial education and I needed it fast.
All of sudden I was assailed by the concepts of good debt, bad debt, personal loans, car loans, store credit accounts, buying lunch, surviving from pay cheque to pay cheque, taxes, budgets… in short, financial management and literacy. I was ignorant about one of the most defining factors of the success recipe. Allow me to illustrate how much of a defining factor it is: Donald Trump.
Slowly and painstakingly, I taught myself both from experience and from the experiences of others that buying everything for cash is not always wise in the long-term unless you are already wealthy. That you need strategic debt in order to build a credit record. That a good credit record opens a lot of doors when you need good debt. That a clothing account is not good debt. That a credit card is dangerous in an inexperienced hand but you need the bank to trust you with one later on in life when you want to shop online from the comfort of your bedroom. That you need discipline in the early years of earning income in order to be comfortable in your later years. That you don’t need everything you want. That bad decisions and ‘YOLO’ financial decisions are the main reason why so many people cannot afford to retire. That it can take up to a decade to dig yourself out of a year of bad financial choices. That Mike Tyson can go from having three hundred million dollars to being bankrupt because of financial illiteracy so it can happen to you just with a lot less money.
I have even grazed the tip of the iceberg of lessons that hit me.
Our parents equipped us as best as they knew how with the hope that we would do better than them. Is that not every parent’s ultimate goal. In doing the same for our kids, we need to ensure that we close the gap and equip them to make smarter choices than we did. They say a wise man learns not from experience, but from the experiences of others. Let us be the generation that learnt that financial literacy is the difference between success and failure and let our children be the generation of wise men and women who learnt from the experiences of their parents.
The earlier you teach a child to swim, the more comfortable and proficient they are in the water as they grow older. The earlier you teach your children the founding principles of money, the higher the chances are that they will excel when their peers are trying to figure it out 2 decades from now.